The monstrous man on the right needs no presentation, but most readers do not know the gentleman on the left. He was Nils Nilsson, my precious and gifted friend, business partner and co-founder of ORC Software — one of the most successful early companies in the field now called FinTech.
Nils and I started a company already in 1986 when still in business school where we created systems for the fledgling Swedish derivatives markets. As Stockholm had the first bourses in the world with fully electronic trading, it was strangely natural that young students would be able to convince the local banks and broker/dealers of the geniality of the IT solutions we programmed. The majority of the Partners in this first company of mine also shared another common background: We were all trained as interrogators in the Swedish armed forces at the innocuously named Language School at Uppsala. Needless to say, Russian was the only language taught and the enemy was clear namely the Swedish arch rival Russia/the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately for Nils, he turned Slavophile at Uppsala whereas I headed firmly west after having the extreme luck to be hired by the stunningly successful Chicago-based derivatives trading firm O’Connor and Associates. After Nils sold his stake in ORC for what in 2004 was an awful lot of money, he nurtured a dream to do large real estate deals in Russia and he explicitly stated that he desired to business with Vladimir Putin. As Nils was a man of action, the meeting pictured took place shortly after the founding of the Ruric real estate company. A few years after the most fateful handshake, Nils was found dead in his beautiful home on Lake Geneva murdered by Russian thugs.
The latest few months have shown the world in stark daylight that the tragic story of the superbly intelligent, funny and business savvy Nils Nilsson is not just an accident. It is simply not possible to do business with nor have any kind of normal association with authoritarian countries. We who are fortunate to be born in the now dwindling democratic part of the world where old fashioned values like honour, trust and decency are the norm must wake up from the delusion that agreements and “deals” to quote the delusional and deceitful former US president will be upheld by the citizens of deeply troubled and authoritarian states like China and Russia.
Tunnel vision and greed have been the name of the game for politicians, financiers, lawyers and artists since the new, shady money started flooding the civilised world from the beginning of the 1990’s. Most persons forgot that there is a reason why enormous populations are and have been ruled by one person for centuries: We value freedom and the rule of law above all things — the Russians, the Chinese and other populations with a long history of despotic rule absolutely do not.
Furthermore, we need to proudly ponder the fact that we in the free world have everything: innovation, universities, diversity, arts, fashion and choice which the feeble citizens of the autocratic regimes all want. They are dependent on our new ideas and products — they do their best to steal our inventions to copy them, but true innovation and research require freedom of the mind which only can be created in the beautiful symbiosis of our universities and true entrepreneurial spirits. It is not a coincidence that Nils, I and our fellow Partners all have become serial entrepreneurs.
In less than two weeks after the heinous assault on Ukraine and democracy the free world came together more speedily than ever before bringing dramatic change to isolate Russia. Let us not forget that the US did not overcome its myopic, reclusive stance in the Second World War until the Japanese foolishly in hubris attacked Pearl Harbour. Now basically every nation which is part of the Renaissance culture has shown Russia and the Russians that they are pariahs and will stay in this state for as long as they are not able to throw off the shackles of authoritarian rule which has been the norm for five hundred years since Ivan the Terrible (please note that the Russians call him Ivan Velikij — the Great).
This remarkable show of unity and determination can be the starting gun for understanding that we are strong and the authoritarian states are weak. They need our finance, inventions, management skills and they do desire to visit our beautiful cities, museums and monuments. They want to dine in our exquisite restaurants, purchase our outstanding products and wear our beautiful clothes as well as watches.
We need to take the short term pain to not only shut out Russia and the Russians: China and the Chinese, Saudi Arabia and the Saudis as well as all other rotten-to-the-core despotic fiefdoms and their citizens shall be banned to do business, visit and interact with the free world. Most readers will instinctively balk at the notion of punishing the “ordinary citizens”. This basic fault in the thought process needs to be corrected. Most persons agree that the Germans have “Kollektivschuld” for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The same logic holds true for all authoritarian states. Surely 1.44 billion Chinese can overthrow the tyranny if they really so desire. The politicians and business persons of western democracies have repeatedly been seduced and charmed by intelligent and formidable tyrants like Josef Stalin, Zhou Enlai and Vladimir Putin. This fallacy has to stop right now.
The alarm bell for this new Renaissance could not be more timely: The climate crisis is upon us and what could possibly be better than to take this opportunity to stop being dependent on fossil fuels emanating from murderous and shifty tyrannies? Politicians tend to underestimate the power we in the democratic and civilised part of the world possess. Given the artificially low levels of interest rates we have probably never, ever seen a better opportunity to commence a massive and well coordinated programme for huge investments into renewable, non-carbon emitting energy production. Furthermore, the dark forces within our own democracies have to be weeded out. The bizarrely slow and feeble response in the USA against the insurrection in January 2021, the limp EU lack of punishment against Hungary and Poland for blatantly breaking basic rules of freedom as well as the rot at the core of Johnson’s lying and outright criminal UK government also have to be changed for swift and decisive punitive action on all possible fronts.
When we in the democratic world shut the tyrannies and their citizens out of our financial systems, our communication networks, our universities and stop accepting them as tourists, there will no doubt be hardship in the short and medium terms brought onto individuals, entities and institutions who naively have believed that the autocratic governments and their citizens are able to “play by the rules”. Investments will be written down to zero, personal relations will vaporise and assets inside the tyrannies will be lost. We cannot, however, forget that these rogue states have no interest in following agreements and they have no honour whatsoever. Their only interest is to steal our innovations and trade secrets for their own gain.
The massively rapid developments on the Russian sanctions and asset freeze fronts should only be a mere beginning of a totally new, sober world-view which will prevent the return of the delusions of being able to interact, trade and live with scoundrel regimes. The recent call for regime change in Russia posted by Anonymous on Twitter could, perchance, be the start of a new Russian Revolution. This time without just changing the Tsar for another, even worse despot.